4 Mistakes People Make When Choosing a Business Litigation Lawyer
There is a common saying for business owners that it is not a question of if you will hire a lawyer for your company, but when. In today’s highly litigious society, any company that operates is bound to face a lawsuit or allegations of wrongdoing at some point. In today’s highly competitive business environment, any company that wants to take advantage of opportunities to expand their operations is bound to see the need to take legal action to pursue their interests.
When business owners do find themselves in need of legal advice, though, they tend to make several mistakes when they choose an attorney. These are not rare or insignificant problems: They are widespread and can drastically undermine the value that an attorney can bring to your business. In some cases, they can produce a false sense of security that your legal affairs are being taken care of, when in reality they are not.
1. Hiring a Friend or Acquaintance
Many business owners – especially small business owners – turn to a friend, family member, or acquaintance to handle their business’ legal affairs or pending litigation. They often do this to save money on legal fees, out of a sense of loyalty to their friend, or to avoid the stressful and difficult process of finding an attorney.
But hiring someone to represent your business solely because you have a personal relationship with them can be fatal to both your business and to that personal relationship.
It can hurt your business because the odds that your acquaintance is the type of attorney that you actually need are extremely small. Lawyers practice in a wide variety of fields, and hiring one to practice in a field that they are unfamiliar with can create severe problems. You do not want a criminal defense lawyer to represent your company in a business litigation situation.
The most important aspect of this problem is that a lawyer who is practicing in an unfamiliar field will miss things that an experienced attorney in that field would pick up on. This can seriously imperil your business, open your company up to new forms of liability, and prevent it from reaching its fullest potential. Business litigation is a notoriously broad field of law. Depending on the circumstances, it can touch on disparate legal issues from all of the following:
- Trademark law
- Unfair business practices
- Franchise law
- Employment law
- Corporate law
- Tax law
- Real estate
- Landlord/tenant law
Additionally, business litigation is, as the name implies, about businesses. In addition to an understanding of these wide areas of law, attorneys need to have a strong background in business to truly succeed in it. Those that do not will fail to appreciate the needs and concerns of business owners, and will not have the foresight to predict problems and the creativity necessary to avoid those problems.
Unless your friend has that background and is experienced in business litigation, hiring them to represent your business solely because of your personal relationship can put your business at risk.
Another important problem is the peace of mind that it can give you. It would be a false one. Hiring a personal friend to handle your business litigation needs can make you think that the problem is taken care of when it is not. This can lull you to sleep as a pressing legal concern grows unchecked until it explodes and puts your entire business at risk.
That very foreseeable outcome – of your friend missing important signs of a legal problem until it is too late – shows how bringing them on board for your business litigation needs also imperils your personal relationship. When their mistake can doom your business venture and upturn your personal life with its failure, it can threaten your relationship, permanently. Even if it does not, your friend will likely harbor ill-will towards you as he or she struggles to provide the legal attention that you need in a field unfamiliar to them.
Mixing your personal and professional lives rarely goes well. Bringing a personal friend in to handle your business’ litigation needs is another example of how it can go wrong.
2. Falling for a Firm’s Legal Marketing, Rather Than It’s Experience and Legal Background
Another common mistake that business owners make is to hire a business litigation lawyer or law firm because they fell for the firm’s legal marketing, rather than because of the lawyer’s background and legal experience.
The worst part about this mistake is that you will not know that you are making it.
Law firms advertise their services all the time – they are a business, just like the one you run, and they need to get customers to survive, as well. In those advertisements, law firms will stress how they will fight for your rights and interests, how they have been successful in the past, and how they have the experience to get you the results you want.
Some of this marketing has important information that you can use to find the best lawyer for your business and situation. Some of it is designed to make you think that this lawyer or law firm is perfect for you. It is very important that you distinguish between the two.
On the one hand, information that you see touted in a law firm’s marketing efforts can, and should, help you find the lawyer you need. That information includes things like:
- How long the lawyer has been practicing
- The lawyer’s particular practice areas
- Case results in cases that are similar to the one you have
The first two are very important. The longer a lawyer has been actively practicing the law, the more he or she has seen. They can use that insight to predict how things will go in your particular situation and guide you accordingly. However, the value of all of those years of practice become muted when a lawyer’s experience is spread across a wide variety of practice areas. A lawyer with thirty years of experience that covers the entirety of business litigation law may not be as helpful to you as one with ten years of experience dedicated specifically to your particular concern, like enforcing a non-compete agreement with a departing executive.
You should also take attorney marketing about case results with a grain of salt, as well. Lawyers always use large verdicts or successful dismissals to show how good they are at filing lawsuits or defending against them. But if the case was in a field that is completely different from your own, it can be disregarded. Even those in your area can be scrutinized: In many cases, it was the factual circumstances that led to the good outcome, not the lawyer’s skills. Cases are far more winnable when all of the facts are on your side.
Testimonials can also be useful in helping you decide which business litigation lawyer to hire for your company. But make sure to read the good, the bad, and ugly. On rating sites that allow for a response, like Google, pay attention to how, or even whether, the lawyer or law firm responds. You can learn a lot about what to expect.
Throughout the process, remember: The legal marketing is where the law firm can show you what it wants you to see. Take in the important details that matter and disregard the rest.
3. Hiring Lawyers Outside of Your Industry
While it is important to hire a lawyer with experience in business litigation, it is even better to find a business litigation attorney that has experience in your particular industry. Every type of business has its own specific needs and concerns, as well as state and federal regulations to comply with.
Between equally experienced business litigation lawyers, the one that has extensive experience representing businesses just like your own is going to be able to provide more effective legal advice and representation. For example, a business litigation attorney with years of experience representing publishing houses will have an intimate understanding of defamation law, author contracts, and royalty arrangements. However, if your business manufactures metal sheeting parts for commercial HVAC systems or brews beer, that experience is not going to do you much good.
4. Waiting Too Long
Perhaps the most devastating mistake that business owners make when hiring a business litigation attorney is waiting too long to do it. Hiring a lawyer is rarely something that you want to do. If you need a lawyer to protect your company from a legal threat, hiring one is an admission that the threat is a serious one to your business and that you cannot handle it on your own. If you need a lawyer to take actions that further your business’ interests, you may find yourself wondering if you can make it work without legal counsel.
In both of these situations, getting a lawyer on board as soon as possible is essential.
It is especially important if your company is facing a legal threat, like a lawsuit or an allegation that could turn into one, such as a letter claiming your company is using an unfair business practice or a claim that you are breaching a contract. The best time to start protecting your company from potential liability is the present. Getting ahead of these situations before they have a chance to escalate and grow into something serious is paramount. In many cases, an experienced attorney can advocate on your behalf, open a dialogue with the complaining party, and convince them not to take the actions that they are threatening to take. Waiting to hire a lawyer is unlikely to make your predicament go away. Taking affirmative action at the outset is the best way to ensure that you are making the proper first steps in a strong defense.
Getting a lawyer involved is also very important if there is a business opportunity that could expose your company to new areas of the law or that will take legal maneuvering to exploit. In these situations, hiring a lawyer for the planning stages, rather than just the execution of that plan, is essential. It can mean the difference between taking advantage of the opportunity or discovering, to your horror, that a mistake had been made early on in the process that will doom your attempts to capitalize on the prospect or expand your business to new areas.